Hemp Farmers Learn Much First Year

Despite storms hurting yields

South Carolina Radio Network
October 22, 2018 - 12:21 pm
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One of the farmers among the 20 selected to participate in the state’s pilot hemp program is a Mount Pleasant attorney who became interested in hemp at a client’s request.

“I was retained by a client to attend a couple legislative sessions and make some presentations before one of the house subcommittees when they were looking at the medical marijuana bill,” said Kevin Dean. “There were a lot of mothers with young children there that had epilepsy and other seizure disorders and other medical –PTSD. And it was pretty heart-shocking, some of the stories that I heard.”

Dean saw the opportunity to grow hemp for the products those patients need.

“It piqued my interest immediately,” he said.

Dean’s grandparents were tobacco farmers in Georgia, but he himself lacked practical agricultural experience. Dean said he’s gotten a lot of help from his partner, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, and other hemp farmers participating in the pilot hemp program.

“It certainly changes your routine,” he explained, still a full-time lawyer who spends his early mornings and weekends tending 19 acres in Williamsburg County and a test acre in Charleston County.

Dean said he’s grateful for the support from both the Department of Agriculture and the other hemp growers participating in the program, who share ideas about what’s working and what isn’t.

“Everybody’s done it differently,” Dean said. “I’m not so sure we’re at the stage now to ascertain what method is the best because everybody is in the middle of their growing right now and I think it’s going to be seen what’s going to be the ultimate best method.”

Dean says it’s a learn as you go process. This is the first year for the sanctioned hemp-growing program in South Carolina. The department is currently reviewing applications for the expansion of the program’s second year. 

“For the most part, growers have been on their own to try to figure out what to do with the crop once it’s ready to be harvested,” Dean said.

“We’ve had some very good consultants. Clemson University is one of our research partners. They’ve been very helpful to us. But by the same token, both the state and Clemson, they don’t have the contacts like these other states that have been doing it for multiple years,” he said.

“After dealing with multiple challenges this year with planting methods, plant varieties and type, funguses and diseases, too much rain causing wet beds, as well as two hurricanes, I am happy to report we have completed harvesting this week,” Dean said via email Friday. “We were affected by Hurricane Florence the most with approximately 30 percent crop loss due to blown over plants. We tried staking and it helped, but many were not salvageable with the added rain and being stressed by the elements.”

Dean hopes to make CBD oil with his crop and he’s searching for a place to have it processed. He planted more than 16,000 plants.

“Right now CBD is the only thing that’s a commodity that we can get our investment back with, with only 20 acres. We can’t take that 20 acres and go into the fiber market. We’ll lose money.”

“We have contracted out our crop harvest to two processors operating in the state and have enjoyed a very good relationship with them to date,” he said. “One processes using a propane extraction method and the other uses CO2. Our finished product has been delivered to one of them in the upstate, and the second load will be delivered down to Hilton Head.”

Because of difficulty in obtaining seed or clones to plant, Dean was able to produce seeds available to sell for 2019. He hopes the seeds will grow plants strong enough to weather hurricanes.

“Clones have been for us the best way to start and I think my company is hopefully going to start a seed company here in South Carolina next year just to avoid that issue for farmers in the future because transporting it across state lines, using the mails to transport it, there could be some legal troubles,” he said.

Dean said hemp might be a good crop for former tobacco farmers in some of South Carolina’s rural counties who may have suffered from the collapse in the market.

“Those tobacco farmers need a replacement crop and hemp would be ideal for them,” he said. “They have the experience. They have the machinery. They have the knowledge and the equipment and I’m hopeful that we can do that for the rural communities in Williamsburg and Florence and Marion Counties and other places across our state.”

He said the pilot program’s 20 hemp farmers are working together to share information because they want the market to succeed in South Carolina.

“It’s called a pilot program,” he said. “We’re not guaranteed permits from year to year. Our obligation, under our permit, is to conduct research and see how this potential crop will benefit our state and our farmers and our economy. We need to be sharing that information and we need to be helping one another.”

“It truly is an opportunity and we don’t want to fail,” he said. “We don’t want to have a single farmer fail because it would look bad on our state and we’ve got really big companies in BMW and Volvo and Boeing that are potential customers of ours with the fiber aspect of this crop.”

But to fulfill the large industrial hemp demands of South Carolina manufacturers, it could take 30,000 acres.

He also hopes the pilot program will change public perception about hemp.

“I hope that the public will become more informed about CBD and hemp product in our state and not get the negative connotation that people seem to always want to tie it back to marijuana. It’s not marijuana. You’re not going to get high with hemp. It’s a good product for our state.”

 

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